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The ‘Shop: Porzingod, the Beard & Diminutive Dynamos

SBNation’s Kofie Yeboah stops by The ‘Shop to talk about the Knicks, the Western Conference playoff race and building a franchise around Isaiah Thomas.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back to The ‘Shop for another week of NBA talk with Jabari Davis and Lang Greene. They’ll be joined today by SBNation’s Kofie Yeboah to discuss Houston’s chances out West and potential playoff showdowns, the exploits of the Diminutive Dynamo (Isaiah Thomas) and whether a franchise can be built around him, how the Knicks should build around Kristaps Porzingis and more.

Jabari: Allow me to welcome you to the mix this week, Kofie. We certainly appreciate you taking the time to join us. In order to add a bit of perspective and context, how about starting us off by letting us know which player(s), team(s) and eras of ball made you fall in love with the game?

Kofie: Hey guys, thank you for having me on. I grew up watching the NBA on NBC. I didn’t have cable for a long time so I used to VCR the games and then play them over and over again. I would try to imitate the moves in my playroom. I watched the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, the Sacramento Kings and of course Allen Iverson. I also remember the Jason Kidd Nets and the Paul Pierce-Antoine Walker Celtics….. I need to find my VCR player, man.

Lang: Good to have you Kofie. Thanks for linking up with us. One thing I want to get your insight on is the Houston Rockets. Is this team for real? Entering the season, I believed the Los Angeles Clippers would be the sleeper team out West but they’ve been ravaged by injuries to their top guys. Houston is winning at a high level and their squad is buying into Mike D’Antoni’s system. But here’s the deal … relying on Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to stay healthy is a risky belief system. Plus their style of play, outscoring people, would work versus 95 percent of the teams in the league – but as I’ve said in the past – no one is beating Golden State in a track meet to 130 points in a seven-game series. What do you think?

Kofie:  To be honest, over these last few years I had been hoping the Clippers would get over the playoff hump just so people could stop slandering Chris Paul for never making a Conference Finals. But here we are. Now, as much as I love the Rockets and James Harden, I don’t think that they are the team in the West to dethrone the Warriors. You can see how hard it is to beat the Warriors in one game; it’s even harder for a team to have to beat them four times out of seven.

I’m going to divide it like this. If these two teams do play each other, of course it’s going to be a three-point shootout.

In the first game where the Rockets won these two teams combined for 88 3PA. Eighty. Eight. Thompson, Durant and Curry combined for 10-37 from the three-point line and the Rockets won in double overtime.

In the Warriors’ 125-108 win over the Rockets, they shot 15-38 as a team from distance (39.5 percent) and the Rockets shot 20 percent from deep. As good as the Rockets have been, they’re going to have to hope that Golden State goes cold for four of those seven games but I just can’t see that happening. Curry, Thompson and Durant are such explosive shooters that it’s hard to believe that all three will go that cold. When all three of them go cold it feels like there is something wrong with the balance of the universe and that just goes to show just how good they are at shooting the rock.

I also think that against the Warriors and, in general, that too much of the offensive burden will fall on James Harden and I think that the number of explosive options that the Warriors have at their disposal will just be too much for the Rockets to deal with in a seven-game series. I am praying that everybody on both teams stays healthy and I’ll be happy for a Rockets-Warriors, Rockets-Spurs or Spurs-Warriors series. Any combination of those three will be lit.

Jabari: We dance around this subject each week, but I think we can all agree that if Golden State is healthy, you probably aren’t beating them in a series. Point blank, period. Trouble is, I kind of had that same feeling last season. Especially when they were up 3-1, but I’ll let that go at this stage. I think the Dubs win a hypothetical series against the Rockets in six games, but each one will be some of the most exciting basketball you can ask for.

Let’s kick it out to the Eastern Conference for a bit. Last week, we got into whether the Knicks would ultimately wind up parting ways with Carmelo Anthony and each determined he would likely end up outlasting Phil Jackson in New York. This story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere (admittedly, in part, due to folks just like us), so I’d like to get your thoughts on the idea of finally moving Anthony in the upcoming offseason. In particular, what type of player(s) would you like to see them put around Kristaps Porzingis?

Kofie: Man I’m a huge fan of Kristaps Porzingis taking over the reigns as the Knicks go-to player. I’m also scared that the Knicks are going to aim too high and then end up not giving Kristaps Porzingis the right amount of help that he needs.

This looks like it is going to be a lit Free Agency period. 

I’m not an insider, but I do have some people that I would love to see play with Porzingis. If the Knicks want to move on from Derrick Rose at point guard, then this is the free agency class to do so. This is a strong point class that features the likes of Steph Curry, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. Now being realistic, the names I just mentioned are most likely just going to be photoshopped into Knicks jerseys as they sign elsewhere (CAN I DREAM THO?). Looking past the 1st tier, Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday and George Hill are also up for grabs and I wouldn’t mind seeing any of them playing with Porzingod. What do y’all think?

Jabari: Keeping it in the EC, has John Wall played himself into the MVP discussion? He’s averaging 23.1 PPG, 10.1 APG and 4.6 RPG while his team is in the midst of a 19-8 stretch. They are just three games behind the 2nd-seeded Toronto Raptors in the loss column. If they can maintain this and work themselves into a three or four seed, what about Wall finally getting some love?

Kofie: I honestly think that the MVP race is already too clogged up with LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but that doesn’t mean that we need to overlook the fact that John Wall is BALLIN right now. However, John Wall is always going to get love from me because we’re from the same place (Raleigh be the city where we like to do the dance.) And yes, he dunked all over my high school.

Lang: Slow down. Slow down. Slow down. John Wall is balling, make no mistake, but he is on a different tier compared to Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Those two guys are putting up historical seasons. What Wall is doing is great, but I can’t put him in the MVP discussion. Right now, the three guys in my MVP race are James Harden, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Yeah, I’ll go with the King to close out the top three slots. Funny how a guy averaging 26-8-8 is considered to be “saving” himself for the stretch run. Still the best player in the league, but I would give the MVP nod to … The Beard.

How do you guys feel about Isaiah Thomas and the Boston Celtics? Obviously, we’ve never seen another guy under 5’10 put up these type of scoring numbers in league history but are you guys sold he’s a legitimate franchise player for the Celtics to build around. Meaning, he’s going to be tasked with taking out the King over the next few seasons. Is he that type of player? Or do you need more game footage?

Kofie: It’s amazing how Isaiah Thomas is so cold with it. His speed, quickness and bag of tricks around the rim are really fun to watch. The way he uses his body and the rim to get his shot off is so inspirational to 5’9/5’10 guys like me everywhere. As for building the team around him? Eh, why not?

Either way, he currently has a cast and crew with Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder among others so it’s not like everything falls on his shoulders. Oh, I almost forgot, they get the Nets pick next year, which looks like it’s going to be pretty high up there again. LeBron is getting older … the Celtics add another potential piece in the draft. Three years down the road … who knows? I’m excited about it.

Jabari: Understanding the fact that crowded MVP discussions can be a bit unrealistic, I just feel like if we are going to praise Kyle Lowry to the point where he’s at least mentioned as a secondary thought (deserving as well), then we can still give Wall the same acknowledgement for what he’s been able to do with bringing Washington back from an early grave.

The Isaiah Thomas story is fantastic. From being the final pick in the 2011 Draft to being a likely selection for the All-Star game for the second consecutive year. On the question about being a franchise guy, isn’t there a legit argument about him being the best player on a Boston roster that features several lottery picks and another two or three guys that were first-rounders? At any size, if you’re the best player on a team that is just a half game out of the second-seed and you’re throwing up 29.1 PPG while dishing out 6.2 APG and killing it in the fourth quarter and overtime on a nightly basis, then I don’t see how we can call him anything less?

Last topic of the day, and we’ll keep it in the EC as we wrap another great week of b-ball talk. I understand what LeBron James is doing in trying to motivate his teammates while “encouraging” management to make a move to bring in an additional playmaker, but part of me has to chuckle a bit when he complains about the team being a bit top-heavy. Factual, yes, but that’s going to be the case when four of your players are making $85 million.

For the record, I actually agree he’s playing too many minutes and carrying too much of the burden. At 32, you don’t want a guy in his 14th season necessarily racking up the type of taxing minutes he’s playing. His 37.6 MPG is the most he’s played since 2013-14. While this is a burden that comes along with prolonged greatness (‘heavy is the head that wears the crown’ and such), you’re going to want ‘Bron as rested as possible when heading into that playoff push. Is there a guy out there that can pick up some of the playmaking slack for these Cavs? Let me get your best options and a quick idea of how they can actually go out and get a guy if a trade is needed.

Kofie: If LeBron says he needs a playmaker, I’m going to do everything in my power to get him a playmaker. I’m not sure who the Cavs should get, but one thing I do know is that Nate Robinson wants a phone call.

Lang: I like the position LeBron is putting management in. Let’s not get comfortable. That’s the message and the appropriate approach to have when evaluating whether a team has what it takes to win a title. We can debate if the media was the correct platform to voice his opinion, but the Cavaliers only have two guys averaging over two assists per game. Golden State has six, with Klay Thompson (1.9) and Shaun Livingston (1.8) knocking at the door. The Cavaliers’ offense absolutely stops if Kyrie or LeBron isn’t creating.

But on the flip side, I also want LeBron to understand that this is the consequence of advising management to pay everyone their money come free agency time. Pay Kyrie Irving. Pay Kevin Love. Pay himself. Pay Tristan Thompson. Heck, let’s throw J.R. Smith some big bread too this past summer. Now a few months later, hitting the media with we’re “top heavy” seems a bit weak. If you pay everyone at or near max, guess what, you’re going to be top-heavy.

A guy Cleveland should have on their radar is Ish Smith in Detroit. He filled in admirably when Reggie Jackson was hurt earlier in the year. He is a well-traveled veteran that has averaged 7.3 dimes per 30 minutes for his career.  He doesn’t have a great jump shot, but analyzing how he’s bounced around the league and adapted to every situation without drama speaks volumes about how the guy might respond if acquired midseason. Just saying.

Hoop Freaks – thanks for joining Kofie, Jabari and myself this week at The ‘Shop. Make sure you hit us up on Twitter and throw some suggestions for next week’s show our way. LG. out.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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